How to Optimize Data Transfer Speed to and From External Drives

Matt Smith 20-02-2014

Transferring data between a PC’s internal storage and an external drive is one of the most common tasks a user performs. Photos, videos, important files, data backups; they all need to be transferred to and fro, sometimes multiple times.


That’s why slow transfer speeds can be so frustrating. No one wants to wait ten minutes for a few gigabytes of data to transfer, and it can be particularly troublesome if you’re late for a meeting or appointment and need the data now. Fortunately, there are a few easy ways to improve transfer speeds.

Set Your USB Drive to Better Performance

Windows defaults USB drives to use a “Quick removal” data transfer policy. This disables write caching, which slows down transfer speeds, but lets you disconnect a device safely without using the “Safely Remove Hardware” prompt.


To disable this feature, do a Windows Search for Device Manager, and open it. Expand the Disk Drives tree and locate the USB drive you’d like to improve (it must be plugged in to the PC). Double-click the drive’s icon and, in the window that appears, find the Policies tab. Click the “Better performance” radio button and then, underneath, check the “Enable write caching on the device” checkbox (some devices don’t support this, however). Then click OK.

Remember, if you enable this feature, you will have to remove the device from within Windows before unplugging it. Failure to do so can result in data loss. To make this easier for you, right-click on your desktop and create a new shortcut, then enter the following as its path:


%windir%\System32\control.exe hotplug.dll

This creates a shortcut that takes you directly to the Safely Remove Hardware menu.

Change the File System

The file system What A File System Is & How You Can Find Out What Runs On Your Drives What is a file system and why do they matter? Learn the differences between FAT32, NTFS, HPS+, EXT, and more. Read More you use to format your drive How to Format a USB Drive and Why You Would Need To Formatting a USB drive is easy. Our guide explains the easiest and fastest ways to format a USB drive on a Windows computer. Read More  can have an impact on performance. Many come from the factory with conservative formatting that allocates data in small chunks, which in turn maximizes the drive’s storage capacity. Increasing the size of these chunks, however, can improve performance.


If you use Windows, you’ll want to use the NTFS file format with an allocation size of 64 kilobytes. This is the quickest configuration for a modern Windows PC. If you also need to use the drive with DOS, Mac OS X, Linux or your a device like your TV, FAT32 is the right choice Which Mac File System Is Best for an External Drive? Formatting a hard drive for use with your Mac? Here are your macOS file system options and how to pick the best one for you. Read More , and it too can be set to an allocation size of 64 kilobytes.


Formatting via Windows is simple. Just open My Computer, right-click the USB drive, and click format. A menu will open in which you can change the file system and allocation unit size. Set each to what you desire, then click Start to begin formatting. Remember, as with any format, this will delete all data on the drive – make sure nothing important is on it before you begin!

Disable Legacy Mode in BIOS

Extremely slow transfer speeds are sometimes caused by a BIOS feature called USB Legacy Mode. This feature is meant to provide compatibility with old USB devices that otherwise might not work, but it can restrict transfer speeds.

The exact steps for disabling Legacy Mode will depend on your motherboard, but here are some guidelines. First you’ll need to enter the BIOS How to Enter the BIOS on Windows 10 (And Older Versions) To get into the BIOS, you usually press a specific key at the right time. Here's how to enter the BIOS on Windows 10. Read More , which in most cases is performed by pressing F12 or Del when your computer boots (if you get to the Windows loading screen, it’s too late; restart and try again).

Once in BIOS, look for an “Advanced” or “Drives” section, and then look for the Legacy USB Support setting. It’ll be either disabled or enabled; if enabled, disable it. Then save your settings and restart your PC. For more specific instructions, consult the support website of the company that made your motherboard or, if you own a name brand PC, consult the brand’s support page.


Note that disabling Legacy Mode could make some aging devices, particularly keyboards and mice, non-functional.

Upgrade to USB 3.0

The newest USB standard, USB 3.0 USB 3.0: Everything You Need to Know USB 3.0 beats USB 2.0 in so many ways. Here's everything you need to know about why you should always pick USB 3.x when possible. Read More , appeared several years ago, but many people still use 2.0 devices. This is because the newer 3.0 drives tend to be more expensive, and they’re still not that common; a lot of stores stock a larger selection of 2.0 drives because they’re more affordable and, as a result, more popular.


Why upgrade? Speed! We put 3.0 to the test by pitting a popular 2.0 drive, the Kingston DataTraveler G3, against two new 3.0 drives. The new drives demolished the older model by transferring a 2.11GB folder five times more quickly (10 minutes, 23 seconds for the 2.0 drive vs. 1 minute, 16 seconds for the 3.0 drive).


Leaping to USB 3.0 requires more than just a 3.0 drive, however. Your computer also must have USB 3.0 ports. Desktop users can upgrade by buying a new motherboard or, if your current mobo still serves your needs, buying and installing a USB 3.0 PCIe card. Laptop users can upgrade using ExpressCard; however, many laptops do not support this feature, so you may have no choice but to buy an entirely new system.

Samsung 128GB USB 3.0 Flash Drive Fit (MUF-128BB/AM) Samsung 128GB USB 3.0 Flash Drive Fit (MUF-128BB/AM) Buy Now On Amazon

Replace an Old Drive With a New One

Solid state drives become slower as they age because repeated read/write cycles wear down How to Securely Erase Your SSD Without Destroying It SSDs can only be written to a limited number of times. Then how can you securely erase your SSD? Here's what you need to know! Read More the available cells of memory, rendering some inoperable. The drive’s controller can compensate for this, but doing so takes more thought on its part, thus decreasing speed. Eventually, after heavy wear, the drive will stop working altogether.

This is not really an issue for consumer SSDs, but flash drives are built to a low price point and often not rated for as many read/write cycles as an internal drive. Most users still won’t manage to eat through a significant portion of a flash drive’s life before it’s lost, broken or succumbs to some other death, but heavy use can wear the drive down.

If your drive is slow, and the typical solutions do not work, replacing it may be the only option.

WD 2TB Elements Portable External Hard Drive - USB 3.0 - WDBU6Y0020BBK WD 2TB Elements Portable External Hard Drive - USB 3.0 - WDBU6Y0020BBK Buy Now On Amazon $64.99

Speed Up Your Transfers

These tips should help you increase your transfer speeds, and in some cases the improvement will be dramatic. Switching from a poorly optimized, old USB 2.0 drive to a new, optimized 3.0 drive USB Flash Drive Guide: 5 Things to Know When Buying One USB flash drives might seem mundane and straightforward, but there are a few tips and quirks that you should know before you buy your next one. Read More can shave huge chunks off the times required for transfers. Let us know how much time you saved in the comments!

Image Credit: Flash Drive by Vincent Wei via Flickr

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  1. Mike
    May 17, 2018 at 10:40 pm

    I changed the USB policies to better performance and ran a test. That did ABSOLUTELY NOTHING to improve my transfer speed. I disabled legacy devices in my BIOS and that locked me out of getting back into my BIOS again. And, yes, I am using a USB 3.0 flash drive formatted in NTFS.
    Any other brilliant ideas??????

  2. Catherine Lee
    September 24, 2017 at 6:28 am

    I would suggest buying a new usb drive which supports 3.0 function, its speed is way too much than 2.0 usb drives. When I had this issue I used GS Richcopy 360 to solve it and the transfer speed was quite good. It says it has multi threaded file transfer ability meaning it can transfer multiple files at a time. Try it, it solved my problem, hope it solves yours too!

  3. Zane Johnson
    June 29, 2017 at 2:15 pm

    Tried some of the above and my flash drive no longer works. It can't complete copying a file or even format. Changed format to NTFS/64kbps :(

  4. Anonymous
    January 16, 2017 at 4:14 pm

    This option in BIOS set-up is currently enabled in my boot setting, but still faced the issue,
    but i found the other option in chipset setting in BIOS set-up, that is north & south configuration setting in chipset menu,as under
    BIOS Set up--> chipset -->south configuration setting--> in that
    USB controller if it is disabled than turn it into enabled, may it helps you in slow copy paste problem.

    my problem is solved using this changes in BIOS, Hope it will help anyone.

  5. Joel
    December 12, 2016 at 9:20 pm

    If you're trying these methods with a USB stick, PLEASE do not bother with the "write caching policy". Or only do so if you're sure your USB stick supports it. Because it caused me so much f'ing trouble: The management console immediately froze and didn't recover even after several minutes, couldn't be killed via the task manager and afterwards my USB stick was no longer properly recognized by Windows, meaning I couldn't access it anymore. Or so I thought. Trying to uninstall the stick from the device manager will also freeze the management console. In reality it just takes 5+ minutes to connect to the stick. And it will take that long every time you remove the stick and put it back in! The fix for this entire clown fiesta was to wait until the USB stick is properly recognized by Windows and can be accessed via the file explorer, then go to the device manager and uninstall the stick.

  6. Aayush
    October 26, 2016 at 4:27 pm

    Worked for me
    5MB/s to 25MB/s
    1tb seagate backup plus
    Thank you very much matt :)

  7. tsuabsa
    October 21, 2016 at 10:37 pm

    hello thanks
    i bought usb 3.0 flash memory ,
    transfer speed from flash to windows is good but transfer speed from windows to flash is Incredibly slow and drop to 0mb/s after a few seconds , and stick Between 0 to 5mb/s or hang up.
    why it happens?

  8. Brady
    March 19, 2016 at 8:03 pm

    Virus protection scanning is also a killer of good copy speeds.

  9. Steve
    March 13, 2016 at 6:01 am

    Ya Know What, There Are Fools That You Give A Bar Of Gold That Complain About Tics And Scratches. Then There Are Some People That Take The Information Given And Are Thankful For Your Time And Trouble That You Spent To Write All Of This Out For The Man That Didn't Know. I Am The Man That Is Very Grateful For The Information You've Provided. My Transfer Rate Between Drives Has Increased By 39% At The Least. Thank You For Your Time And Consideration. To All Of You Other Ungrateful Losers.....If You Not Happy With The Answers Your Given, Buy A Damn Book!

    • Jan Smith
      May 21, 2016 at 4:58 pm

      well said !!!!!! lol

  10. steve
    February 16, 2016 at 6:26 pm

    didn't really help :-( same speeds as before

    January 23, 2016 at 3:10 pm

    how to increase transfer of usb with some program?

  12. Tom Bombadil
    December 21, 2015 at 2:00 pm

    I ticked the box for Better performance, then Enable watire catching on the device, and now it's loading and has been for multiple minutes now. Is it supposed to take this long?

    • Tom Bombadil
      December 21, 2015 at 2:05 pm

      I found out my USB doesn't support Cache writing (BTW, watire is supposed to say write) so I just ticked the 'Better performance' box, and it is still taking a while to load.
      Also, what font is this text in?

    • mohsin
      August 7, 2016 at 6:25 pm

      you are mad tom....
      do not follow the damn things that matt smith told

  13. Anonymous
    August 12, 2015 at 9:11 pm

    Thanks, I spent all day wondering why my Corsair Voyager GTX usb stick didn't reach the 400+ MB/s I saw in many reviews. It turned out it was the legacy support in my bios. The speed went up from 253 MB/s to 437 MB/s

  14. Anonymous
    July 13, 2015 at 3:13 pm

    Too dangerous for me to change policies because i never safely remove my usb key.I don't have too.So one day i will buy a good usb .(some usb 3 are slow,it's good too but more $ for a good one)

  15. Anonymous
    July 4, 2015 at 6:11 am

    Interesting info. Thanks for this.

  16. Ake
    April 15, 2015 at 2:31 pm

    My speed is high for first minute (50Mb/s) but then it falls to 1mb/s what to do?

    • MSherif
      April 28, 2016 at 3:28 pm

      same here, but drops to 12mb/s

  17. Speedy
    March 24, 2015 at 9:51 pm

    Could I set the the removal policy to better performance to do a transfer then set it back to quick removal once it's done?

    • Anonymous
      July 31, 2015 at 1:44 pm

      It is possible, however your computer needs to restart between changing those policies. I am researching this mid way through a 850gb backup to a usb 2 ext hdd so sadly for me i'd have to stop the transfer, restart from the start. But yes in theory it is easy to switch.

    • Anonymous
      July 31, 2015 at 2:38 pm

      Looking into it a bit more there does not seem to be any real improvement by setting it to better performance, just more risk of data loss.

      It may not be the perfect test but this website tried various devices on both modes and the difference was so tiny that it is not worth it.

  18. MOS
    March 13, 2015 at 5:46 am

    thankx brah

  19. dn
    February 25, 2015 at 12:11 am

    "Desktop users can upgrade by buying a new motherboard" - this is a terrible option, as a motherboard without USB 3.0 ports is likely outdated enough that replacing it would also require replacing the CPU and RAM at the same time.

    "“Formatting via Windows is simple.” – Unless you make a mistake and remove the “Quick Format” checkbox (for USB)..:)"
    It's still technically *simple*, it will just take much longer, but is far more complete in its erasure of the drive contents.

  20. Dragon A. He
    February 8, 2015 at 1:23 am

    I have a USB 3.0 Kingston Datatraveler 3.0 but for some reason the disk structure is corrupted. so now i cant use the usb 3.0 method. any other suggestions?

  21. v1adimir
    February 25, 2014 at 7:05 pm

    "Formatting via Windows is simple." - Unless you make a mistake and remove the "Quick Format" checkbox (for USB)..:)

  22. Bob Myers
    February 21, 2014 at 8:03 pm

    Ref: Will this work for uSD cards also?

    I use a 3sGB uSD card for my Portable Apps device.

    Please make that "I use a 32 GB uSD card for my Portable Apps device.

    I apologize.

  23. Bob Myers
    February 21, 2014 at 8:01 pm

    Will this work for uSD cards also?

    I use a 3sGB uSD card for my Portable Apps device.

  24. Abdul Quadir
    February 21, 2014 at 7:56 pm

    Really Informative.
    Thank You

  25. Anas T
    February 21, 2014 at 2:01 pm

    Nice! thank you..

  26. Ande
    February 20, 2014 at 4:49 pm

    I'd love to have one. Looks like a fantastic idea.